When my father was converted in the late 1930s, he and Mother began looking for a Sabbathkeeping church as an alternative to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in our hometown of Parkersburg, West Virginia. They found the Church of God (Seventh Day) and became members. When they began attending its services, they took my brothers and me to church with them.
I was a young boy who had not been accustomed to attending church, but going with my parents was the beginning of my lifelong relationship with the Church of God.
I enjoyed learning stories from the Bible in our Sabbath school class. One of the earliest lessons I remember was that Jesus loved me and that as my Savior, He promised to return to the earth and give me eternal life.
Years later, when I became a minister in the Church of God and knew many more details about our hope of the resurrection, I was asked how I consoled grieving families at their loved ones’ funerals. My answer was simple. I have only one funeral message, and it is the hope we have of the resurrection. I remind the bereaved that their loved ones will live again when all God’s saints throughout the ages are resurrected at Christ’s second coming. Every believer should eagerly anticipate this event.
The resurrection has been the hope of the saints of God throughout the ages. One of the earliest affirmations came through Job, who lived centuries ago:
“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes — I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (19:25-27).
Much later, the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, describing the loud events accompanying Jesus’ coming (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17) and the instantaneous resurrection when our mortality is changed to immortality (1 Corinthians 15:52). He concluded his description by instructing the church to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus about the same great and glorious event: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called” (Ephesians 4:4). Our hope of the resurrection is an integral part of our calling to surrender our lives, in faith, to Jesus Christ.
Our resurrection hope wasn’t a teaching confined to the saints long ago. The Church of Christ in Michigan, predecessor to the Church of God (Seventh Day), was founded upon the doctrines of Sabbath observance, the second coming of Jesus, and the resurrection of the saints. It believed the only path to an afterlife is by the resurrection of the dead from their graves.
Further, the Church’s belief in the resurrection prompted it to name its magazine The Hope of Israel, a title inspired by Paul’s defense before King Agrippa while a prisoner on his way to Rome: “It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain” (Acts 28:20); “And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. . . . Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” (26:6, 8).
“Age to come”
Over the years, the Church of God has taught the resurrection is not the only thing that the hope of our calling entails. There is more!
Back when nearly all churches of every persuasion believed that the eternal home of the righteous is in heaven, the Church of God was teaching “the age to come” doctrine — that the eternal home of the saints is on the earth.
Some Sabbathkeepers looked upon heaven as their eternal home, coming immediately after death. Others believed that their resurrection, at Jesus’ coming, prepares them to be caught up to heaven for a millennium, after which they will descend to inhabit the earth for eternity.
But the Church of God has taught that, after being caught up in the clouds momentarily to meet Jesus as He descends to earth (1 Thessalonians 4:17), the resurrected saints will return to the earth. They will inhabit and restore it to more than the beauty of the Garden of Eden. Further, Christ’s reign with His saints on earth will usher in the eternal age of God’s kingdom
(1 Corinthians 15:20-28). This is a summary of “the age to come” doctrine.
Gilbert Cranmer, founder of the Church of Christ in Michigan (1858), wrote a poem titled “Glorious Prospect,” set to music by his stepson, Adelbert Branch. The refrain of the song says:
Oh, glorious prospect! Fair Eden restored. Oh, joy beyond measure. We shall live with Christ our Lord.
This was his expression of the age to come in which the saints will inherit and restore the earth while reigning with Christ.
Paul expressed the desperation of a life without the hope of the resurrection: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). But we have God’s promise of our resurrection to everlasting life. We have His promise to dwell with us in person in His eternal kingdom where there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:3, 4).
Further, God guarantees our resurrection by the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us (Ephesians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 4:5). Praise God for His love, mercy, and Spirit that guarantee our hope of the resurrection!